Christmas Plan, Year Two

First of all, I was checking my archives to see when I first started getting crabby about Christmas last year, and HOLY DOG YOU GUYS.  Get that woman some anti depressants.  Jesus.  I was basically curled up in the corner at the mere mention of the holidays.  Anyway.

This year I am actually sort of, dare I say it, looking forward to Christmas?  Which means, obviously, that’s it sure to be awful, because quite frankly low expectations and a dubious outlook are the keys to my all around general happiness and also the reason I liked that movie where Ben Aflleck went into space after doing it with Liv Tyler when no one else on the planet liked that movie, but whatever.  I am excited for Christmas! Let’s just enjoy that strange feeling and hope for the best.

So last year was the first year I came up with a Christmas Plan.  Having endured many years of Christmas Suckitude, it FINALLY occured to me that maybe instead of sitting around and bitching about how much it all sucked and searching for uninhabited islands where no one had ever heard of Christmas within driving distance of Sacramento, I decided that maybe I would try to do something about it. I know.  Probably should have had that idea ten years earlier. Oh well.

So here’s what worked.  (To refresh my memory, because chances are no one else cares):

1. The Advent Calendar.  I have a big handmade advent calendar and last year I filled it with Things To Do instead of candy.  This was awesome.  It because a giant Event Reminder and it involved everyone in the family and it helped stretch out the crazy holiday season into little one day chunks.  Some time soon I will post the list of activities we’re going to do this year and I’ll probably try to blog them again this year.

2. Stretching out the Christmas Presents.  Last year I really tried to reduce the number of things that I bought.  I’m not sure how successful I was at it, but all my efforts to really stretch things out helped A LOT with the over gifting/kids thing.  The Christmas that Eli was 3 ish, he had over FIFTY PRESENTS to open.  At one point he just gave up and walked out of the room.  He just didn’t care that much about all that STUFF.  So last year, I opened all the presents that came into the house from other people.  Some of it I gave away (without ever even showing the kids). Of course we said thank you and of course we appreciated the gift, but thanks and appreciation does not the change the fact that we do not have room for more blocks, and we do not need more blocks.  One of the consequences of living in 960 square feet is that we have a limited selection of toys.  So be it.

So some stuff we donated straight to Goodwill, some stuff we wrapped back up and put in the toys for tots bin for a poor child (and “Give a present to a less fortunate child.” was on the advent calendar.)  Some of the “boring presents” we opened a head of time – I put “open a christmas book” in the advent calendar and believe me when I tell you the appreciation for a Christmas book or a book on trees is seven thousand times greater on December 12th than it is on December 25th.

This year we are going to put out shoes on December 5th  for St. Nicholas and the kids will either get a new pair of shoes in return, or some Christmas pajamas and some candy, I haven’t decided yet.

We also opened family gifts on Christmas Eve, and Santa Presents on Christmas Day.  I had a very hard time with this idea and actually sort of still do because something about my childhood had led me to believe that only communists and serial killers open presents this way, but it worked out really well.

I also saved out larger presents (including ones from family members that were mailed here) and instead of going out on Christmas Eve and buying a bunch of random junk at Cost Plus or Target or Walgreens, I put any present that would fit in a stocking in a stocking.   And anything that looked “fun” at Trader Joe’s I bought for the same reason.  So the stockings were full of good stuff like flashlights and makeup (for me) and pajamas, instead of useless junk drawer type items.

An unexpected benefit of this “vetting” of the Christmas gifts was that it took all the het up  imaginary romance out of the Christmas presents I was getting.  I like to imagine that all of the various pretty things under the tree are diamond bracelets and car keys, when in fact they are calendars and bars of soap.  Once I took the “running away with imagination” factor out of the game, I was actually kind of excited to get a calendar and some soap.

This does not mean that I never want to get another romantic magical fabulous Christmas gift ever again, but in years when I don’t, it really helps.  Does that make any sense?

3.  Christmas Morning.  Christmas morning we woke up and opened stockings and then we went and had dim sum for breakfast.  Everyone loved this.

4. Christmas Dinner.  Christmas dinner we went over to our neighbors house for a big fancy dinner, because she is awesome and Eli invited us over to  her house.  Then we went and drove around and looked at Christmas lights.  It was perfection.

5. We stayed at our house.  Everyone is invited to come here, but they never do.  Regardless, our days of trooping off to other people’s houses to have those people’s Christmasses are over.  We are a family and we deserve our own family Christmas just as much as anyone else.  Christmas is too much and small children are too much to add family dynamics on top of it.

What Needs Some Refining:

1. Christmas Eve Dinner.  My goal last year was to make a really fun easy but different schmancy sort of dinner, like champagne and fancy appetizers and chocolate. I bought a bunch of frozen appetizers from Trader Joe’s and they were actually a lot of work and sort of gross and made us all feel icky the next day.  So now I’m not sure what to do for Christmas Eve. I’d still like it to be low key and easy to clean up and sort of fancy.  Maybe if I go out at 8 AM the day before I can find crab.

2. We’re also going to have to come up with some kind of Christmas dinner, which adds to the problem. I don’t want to cook two big deal dinners in a row.  So this remains undecided.   Maybe we’ll do a giant piece of meat for Christmas dinner and fondue for Christmas Eve.  That sounds fun! And how hard can some melted cheese be, really?  I would need to buy some kind of fondue pot, I guess, but that can be arranged.

3.  And that’s about it.  My last goal is not to buy too much stuff but I’ll be honest with you, that’s already not going that well.  I’m hoping to be DONE DONE DONE the first week of December and then not to let myself buy anything else, but the last minute sales always get me anyway.



30 Responses

  1. We do breakfast for dinner on Christmas Eve. An easy breakfast casserole, muffins, and mimosas. That sounds like me, doesn’t it?

    • I am not at all surprised to learn that your Christmas Eve involves champagne, no, I am not.

  2. we do a green chili stew on christmas day (aka – throw everything in the pot and it cooks all day) so very little effort. I do make some homemade biscuits to eat with it but that’s because I love them.

  3. So my entire family is staying at my house for Christmas (parents + two siblings w/spouses), along with my sister in law’s sister and three kids. Cue my freak out…NOW

    Here’s what I’m doing for Christmas Eve: Chili. My husband is going to make a huge pot of his chili that morning, and dinner will be that and cornbread and I’ll just set out chili fixings and everyone can kind of do whatever they want. My family really likes scotch and bourbon, so we’ll prob do what we always do which is end up doing a bourbon/scotch blind tasting, which is really just my code for “drinking a lot of bourbon and scotch”

    Then for Christmas Day I’m just doing a bigger meat …thing.

  4. We have not decided what to do for Christmas Eve yet, and some of that has to do with deciding what we are doing for 12/26 too. We always get together with my dad’s family, and it’s always difficult to figure out which day we’re going to get together and where and etc etc etc. Last year I set it up, did a Facebook event (for family, how funny is that) and we all went to my Grandmother’s house for Christmas Eve. This year she’s in a nursing home, so I’m trying to figure out the easiest way to railroad my uncle into hosting.

    Christmas morning it has been our tradition since the first boy was born (and now there are two) that we have all the grandparents over to our house for a formal sit-down breakfast (biscuits and gravy, egg casserole, bacon and danishes) and then we all open gifts together. Later my MIL hosts Christmas dinner at her house, and I’m only responsible for a side dish. This has all worked out marvelously and I think we will continue that tradition.

    Here’s my question to you: How do you cull the kids toys down? I try and try, but somehow it seems that no toy can be gotten rid of OR given to a needy family unless it’s broken … and sometimes not even then. And we have GENEROUS grandparents (read: buying their love sometimes) so I feel like my house at 1.5 times your houses size is busting at the seams with toys.

    • Before Christmas I go through and I get rid of anything that’s broken or that the kids don’t play with. We keep toys in bins in a 4 x 4 Expedit, and if it doesn’t fit on there, in the backyard, or in their room, out it goes. If it doesn’t have a spot and one can’t be made for it, out it goes. But that Expedit holds A LOT of toys, especially in the fabric bins we have for it. I also get rid of stuff we already have some version of. For example foam blocks? We have wooden blocks. We don’t also need foam blocks, and we don’t have room for them. Get rid of. Toy cars? We already have a million of them, so we get rid of any extra ones. It helps a lot if you get rid of stuff still in the package, when it’s a nice new toy. Then it’s something else another kid can use, instead of junk you don’t have room for but feel guilty getting rid of. Clothes I would never put on my kids? Right into the donate pile. I always have a bag going in the front closet, so I just add it to the bag, and when it’s full I drop it off at Goodwill. Hope that helps!.

      • All of our toys are in those fabric bins too. I finally decided today (after doing all my BF shopping) that the youngest is not a baby anymore so I pulled out all the cheap McD toys, all the baby toys, and anything that neither kid plays with and it’s amazing how much more room we have! Even though all the toys technically fit in those bins, it looks so much cleaner with 1/3 of it or so gone (I know it won’t last, Christmas and birthday are looming soon).

        The clothes are also in fabric bins (the boys share a bedroom, so the closet is an Expedit/ikea dream) so I went through all those as well. So nice to be through it all!

  5. My growing-up family had soup for Christmas Eve dinner. I like how it can be up-played (crescent rolls! crudites! bacon-wrap-type things!) or you can just have the soup.

  6. I loved your advent calendar idea last year and I love it this year. I’m tempted to do something like that for me and my husband, but does it seem weird to do it for just the two of us? I have finally accepted that we will never get to spend Christmas just the two of us at home. It has taken me over a decade to come to the realization that I’m the brat who moved away from family, so I’m the brat who has to travel. So, what the really means is that I’m so, so, so jealous that you stay at home.

    P.S. I’m also really glad you’re in a better place this year.

    • No, you should totally do it for you guys! There’s tons of ideas on Pinterest of ways to make really easy advent calendars using just envelopes, even. And I am going to put grown up activities in my calendar this year too. No reason it should be just for kids.

  7. Hey I noticed that you sometimes respond to peoples’ comments. I never check back and I never check that “notify me” box for comments. Oops. I will now. If you ever asked me something in a comment reply or anything I never saw it so don’t hate. Or if you never responded to one of my comments I wouldn’t know either! So anyway.

    Fondue pot. If you really do want to go that route PLEASE let me mail you the brand new one in my house. My husband got it from some friends who didn’t want it and he won’t let me get rid of it. If I am “loaning” it to someone it would be great because I get it out of the house. Then you can keep it or pass it along to the next fondue party person.

    I loved your Christmas eve apps idea but totally got how it could be a lot of work and icky. I would love to do something along those lines but delightful. Pondering.

  8. My sister and her family always spend Christmas Eve with her in-laws, as that’s when they have their big family thing and he has several siblings with a jillion kids, so more power to ’em. My parents and I and my boyfriend go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve…there’s a really yummy buffet close to their house and there’s usually lots of people there so it’s kind of fun. Then we go back to my parents’ house and do the last-minute wrapping or cooking or something that always seems to pop up. And watch “A Christmas Story” non-stop, of course.

    Christmas morning we get up and go to my sister’s house in our pj’s to watch the kids open their Santa stuff and have breakfast, then back to the parents’ again for munchies (usually cheese fondue OMGYUM, fruit, veggies, maybe meats/cheeses) while we open the rest of the presents. I usually manage to work a nap in there somewhere, too. And then later we have dinner. And cookies. And my mom usually buys peppermint ice cream too. Because it’s not Christmas unless you’re sick at the end of the day, right??

    I don’t know if you really wanted the run-down on what I’m doing for Christmas, but it made me happy to type it up (today has been a suckfest).

  9. If I could only get my family on board with a Christmas plan. Instead we spend Thanksgiving & Christmas away from our house. That’s how my family has always been, always TRAVELING. I’m hoping when baby comes in April, we can hold some trump cards and put an end to the traveling and lugging our lives around TX.

  10. I love your Christmas plans!! And I have enjoyed your Christmas lists & Pins to no end. I swear you are single-handedly putting me in the Christmas spirit! Thank you! 🙂

  11. I just love that you have a totally different perspective this year. Yay for figuring out what works for your family!

    We open presents with my family on Christmas Eve day, then we all go to church together on Christmas Eve, because… well, because we all attend the same church anyway. Then Dave and I put the kids to bed and eat cheese fondue on a blanket in the living room while we watch Love Actually and maybe Elf, too. I look forward to that one night with Dave more than any other, I think – just the two of us, eating fatty delicious food, by a lit Christmas tree while the kids sleep upstairs. Love it.

  12. It is such trial and error to figure out what works and when you only get one chance a year it feels so monumental and impossible to get it right. This year we are doing a couple of things:

    1. Straight-up copying the activity advent calendar.
    2. Opening some presents for Claire early.
    3. Chili with a boatload of add-ins for Christmas Eve.
    4. Some sort of activity for Christmas Eve, after the chili. I like the bourbon/scotch taste test idea above!
    5. Those are all of my ideas.

    I think this year I am just looking forward to simply spending time with my family, which sounds stupid as I LIVE HERE all of the other months of the year but, I don’t know, there just seems to be so many more interesting things to DO in December and fun things to see and just driving around in the dark to look at lights is fun and exciting and that’s just kind of cool.

    I am super excited. We have some decor up, but not the tree, and I am plotting all kinds of ways to decorate the house even better this year. Yay for Christmas!

  13. I really like Emily’s tradition of a date with her husband by the Christmas tree. We do that, too, once my in-laws finally leave.

    Growing up, we always had my grandma’s BBQ beef and then snacky stuff — chips, pretzels, dip — for Christmas Eve. We do cabbage rolls now because my husband is Hungarian, but I the BBQ beef is way easier. If you want the recipe, let me know. It’s crockpot-able.

  14. I think pre-opening kids presents is GENIUS. I can’t do it, since all of our Christmases are in person, but I do try to get rid of some of it as soon as we get home.

  15. First of all, I love that horrible movie with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler (and Bruce Willis – don’t forget Bruce Willis!)! That stupid movie makes me cry EVERY TIME, even if I just catch five minutes of it on TV.

    Secondly, I love your Christmas plans. I’m going to come back to this someday when (if) we ever have kids because I think these are really helpful and smart guidelines.

    Thirdly, my in laws do fondue for Christmas Eve and man am I glad I only have to do that once ever two years. They only do cheese fondue, though. So that might have something to do with how awful I feel. Every two years. My vote is for crab, is what I’m saying.

  16. I think breakfast for dinner on Christmas eve is a great idea (dutch babies, bacon, fruit!) my in-laws do crab and I love it, then we always watch it’s a Wonderful Life.
    When my kids are a bit older I would love to do the “to do” advent calendar. Great ideas!

  17. I was about to write a long comment….then I read last year’s post and realized I already said what I was going to say. So instead…kudos for trial and error, for making the holiday your own! Also, we do chinese takeout on christmas eve, then a prime rib roast for christmas dinner, so it is only one big meal preparation. Eating lo mein with chopsticks os one of violet’s favorite parts of the holiday.

  18. That’s so interesting that you have stress or difficulties around the holiday, because you’re one of the few people I know who do it so well! Last year we stayed home for xmas, just the two of us, and I loved it. We made peppermint hot chocolate and kettle corn and went looking at lights on christmas eve. NPR was playing some really cool stories and…ah, it was magical. For christmas morning we had sourdough cinnamon rolls and vegetarian english breakfast and opened the 2 gifts that we’d allowed each other to get, plus a tiny number from other people and it was awesome. I hope we get to do that, at least every few years…
    And when I have a kid, I’m so stealing your advent idea!

  19. I’m more excited/less stressed about Christmas this year too, I think because I have a built-in new baby excuse and therefore not as much pressure to get very much done. I can’t wait until the year we finally put our foot down about staying at home instead of traveling to see all the grandparents, but…not this year, sigh.

  20. Christmas Eve we always have my hubs’ stepdad and his wife over and we make from-scratch cinnamon buns (I use Pioneer Woman’s recipe, and it makes a butt load… I give them away on Christmas morning) and hot chocolate, have the kids open their gift, get in the new jammies, read the Grinch, get them to bed. Clean the kitchen together. We gather around a movie and enjoy each other’s company for the night. I always stay up late, putting out the presents, but I stay up for about an hour and enjoy the quiet, serenity that is the Night Before. I blog a letter to my children, admire the lights on the tree, say a prayer, and head to bed myself. Christmas morning (a to the freaking men on having children and staying in our own home!) I get up early, make the breakfast casserole (grits, sausage, eggs, cheese), put coffee on, and welcome relatives in, setting up their gifts under the tree. Sometime around 7am or so, the oldest wakes up, and it’s off to the races. We graze and play the whole morning. Lunch consists of fancy deli meats and cheeses on bakery hoagie rolls with chips and drinks…. that is usually dinner as well 😉 It’s always relaxed and fun, and I refuse to cook on Christmas Day – tradition from my mother, lol.

  21. Love this. All your ideas for making the holidays better, easier, and less sucktastic are great and I plan on stealing a whole bunch of them. (WHY have I never thought to open the kids’ presents from random relatives early and weed them out?? BRILLIANT!)

    I’ll be checking back to see how it goes! Good luck!

  22. I really want to start a tradition of setting shoes out for St. Nick since my husband’s family is Dutch. In my ideal world we’d all have actual wooden shoes. In reality only my husband has actual wooden shoes.

  23. This post and A’Dell’s have me thinking about Christmas plans this year. The past two years have been Christmas Light and I think I’m feeling up to doing a bit more.

  24. On the years that we stay home, we do fondue on Christmas Eve and we eat by candle light. The kids love it, it’s fairly easy… and chocolate fondue seems so very decadent, especially for the kids.

    I love reading about how others handle the holidays. It’s so inspiring to hear about it and then reevaluate different aspects of our plans. So thanks for sharing!

  25. So I just blog-stalked you over here on a tip from Everyday Reading. You’re just kind of awesome, you know? I am totally inspired by your Christmas plan – so much so that I just might borrow all of it (though applied only to a dog and a Mr. since there are no babies as of yet). Anyhoo, my family always eats tamales on Christmas Eve. Last year we made them (and that was INSANE). Usually we buy them. Whatever you choose, easy and not overly heavy is my favorite way to go. On Christmas day my mom sets out appetizer-y things, rolls, lunch meat, veggies, leftover tamales, and we just eat whatever we want. This new approach to Christmas eating has been a revelation. No slaving in the kitchen for hours? Pardon? Are you seriously this awesome mom?

  26. One of my favorite family traditions (started late in my life) is a favorite foods dinner on Christmas Eve. Everyone in attendance helps prepare their favorite food. We do get a random assortment of items, but it’s fun to see what everyone picks (and the adults usually try to fill in holes).

    I also love the idea of fondue or breakfast foods. We’re working out our own holiday traditions (most of which involve food) so I find myself with the same question…

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